ALBANY, N.Y.—Governor Kathy Hochul marked Labor Day by signing four labor-related bills, including an anti-wage-theft measure that building-trades unions had called their top legislative priority this year.
The wage-theft law will make construction contractors liable for wages owed to workers employed by subcontractors on their jobs. The other three bills will set up a pilot program to use cameras to catch drivers speeding in roadwork zones; require co-op and condo buildings that receive 467-a tax abatements to pay their service staff prevailing wage; and extend “shared work” unemployment benefits for workers who’ve had their hours reduced to part-time.
“The bills signed into law today will enhance roadway work zone safety; create a fairer unemployment benefit for workers whose hours were reduced in lieu of layoff; hold unscrupulous private construction contractors liable for wage theft; and require a prevailing rate for those who work in residential buildings receiving tax breaks,” New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said in a statement released by the governor’s office on Sept. 6.
The wage-theft bill, sponsored by state Senate Labor Committee chair Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) and Assembly Labor chair Latoya Joyner (D-Bronx), was passed by both houses of the Legislature in early June, but not signed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo before he resigned in August. It’s intended to tie general contractors into the chain of responsibility for paying workers on their jobs: They will get the power to demand that subcontractors give them records listing the names, pay, and benefits of all workers on the job, and to refuse to pay subcontractors who don’t turn over that information.
“This historic legislation will end the race to the bottom we’re seeing in construction, where contractors subcontract much of their work to smaller contractors, absolving them of liability for stolen or unpaid wages, and leaving workers with little recourse,” said Robert Bonanza, business manager of the Mason Tenders’ District Council of Greater New York, a group of five Laborers International Union of North America locals.
‘Shared Work’ Benefits
Assemblymember Joyner also sponsored the legislation increasing Shared Work benefits. The program was created to enable employers to keep workers on the job by allowing them to receive partial unemployment insurance benefits if their hours were reduced.
The bill corrects a loophole that penalizes workers in that program. Normally, someone collecting unemployment benefits who works two days in a week will get half the weekly benefits they would get if they hadn’t worked at all, and the expiration of their benefits will be delayed by half a week. But people collecting Shared Work benefits were limited to 26 weeks, regardless of how much they’d worked. The new law allows them to collect until they’ve used up 26 weeks’ worth of benefits.
The extended benefits, SEIU Local 32BJ President Kyle Bragg said, are important because “the pandemic also laid bare the critical importance of a robust safety net for workers during economic turbulence.”
Prevailing Wage in Condos, Co-ops
The prevailing-wage bill for co-op and condo workers was a priority for 32BJ, which called it “a major victory for more than 2,000 residential building doorpersons, cleaning, and maintenance persons.” More than 95% of them work in buildings in Manhattan south of 96th Street, the union said.
“These luxury apartment buildings can afford to pay workers the prevailing wage, and frontline essential building-service workers who risked their lives to keep New Yorkers safe deserve good pay and benefits,” Bragg said.
The measure, sponsored by Senator Brian Benjamin (D-Manhattan) and Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa (D-Manhattan), covers buildings where individual owners of units receive property-tax reductions under Section 467-a of the state tax law. It applies to buildings where the average unit is assessed at a value of more than $60,000, or $100,000 in buildings with fewer than 30 units.
In practice, according to 32BJ, that means units that would sell for $800,000 or more, often much more.
“Public funds should never be used to subsidize low-wage jobs or undercut the industry standard,” De La Rosa said in a statement.
Speed Cameras in Work Zones
The speed-camera bill directs the state Thruway Authority to set up a pilot program to enforce speed limits in construction or maintenance work areas located on controlled-access highways, and issue regular reports on the number and severity of violations and accidents in those zones. It was sponsored by Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo) and Assemblymember William Magnarelli (D-Syracuse)
“There is no question that the work-zone speed-camera legislation will help keep our highway workers and New York’s motorists safe,” Frank Marchese Jr., executive director of the New York State Laborers’ Health & Safety Trust Fund, said in a statement.
Three More Unsigned
The Mason Tenders are now urging Gov. Hochul to sign three bills passed earlier this year that would protect formerly incarcerated construction workers. All three were sponsored by Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx) and Joyner.
One would specify that participating in a work-related protest such as a strike should not be considered a parole violation. Another would allow former prisoners to do “bona fide work” and commuting at night without being penalized for violating their curfews.
The third would require the state Labor Department to issue quarterly reports on hiring by employers receiving work opportunity tax credits — including hiring of “re-entry workers,” those recently released from prison.
“Formerly incarcerated workers in New York find themselves with little to no help upon returning home, and together we can ensure there are good jobs in construction for them,” Bonanza said. He called the three bills “meaningful criminal-justice reform that will truly empower struggling New Yorkers and foster safe communities.”